Starting Small: An Early Childhood Perspective on Global Citizenship Education

Starting Small: An Early Childhood Perspective on Global Citizenship Education
Section: Fields of Study


Man’s (sic) ontological vocation is humanization!
Freire, 1973

Among the many giants who’s shoulders we stand on to see a bit further, Freire continued the pathway forward by urging the world of education to look beyond the classroom spirit and walls towards “a world in which it’s easier to love” (Freire, 1973). In doing so, it seems that there are at least two (perhaps, of many more) cornerstones which Freire could have engaged with had his life span been immortal! The first of these which Freire started to navigate later in his life is around the concept and movement of ecopedagogy - “teaching critical environmental literacies in order for students to understand global environmental issues through the world’s diverse perspectives” (Misaszek, 2018). The second, I believe could have been a full circle in his work on adult literacy to re-imagining early childhood literacies. 

I posit this, primarily from my repeated facilitations (with adults, teens, and young children alike) of Feire’s original pictographs of the 1962 Popular Culture Movement in which the first several slides Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 82 delve quite deeply into the world of culture making, most of which, specifically with those initial slides involved physical work with the materials of nature and the possibilities of humanization - soil, plants, earth, water, animals and the lived environment - something very natural and celebratory of constructivist education which posits experiential, emergent learning, from children’s and students experimentation with nature, materials, thoughts, and concepts - all emerging into working theories which help young children make sense of the world around them.

Anchoring the circle between early childhood and adult education & development is Freire’s constant, though not termed or coined notion of Global Citizenship - and in this case with the circle of life being connected from young to old, the notion of Global Citizenship Education as part of Freire’s aspiration of life long learning through “man’s ontological vocation of humanization - of being fully human”, or stated even better by Freire as, “Eduation does not make us educable. It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable” (Freire, 2001).

Happyland Preschool - A Snapshot

Genesis/Background of Happyland:

When Margot & Paul Roman started Happyland over 70 years ago, they built the school with it’s first ‘pillar’ around the ideas of peace education as a movement to educating children for a life with no wars and an end to violence. In the late 1970’s, Margot & Paul re- Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 83 tired and Happy Juma took on the stewardship of the school. During that period, the field of ECE was challenged by functionalism’s approach to ‘normative’ education as a means to providing ‘education for all’ and yet, anticipatory of constructivism as opportunity, attempting to balance out values education along with the yearning for organizational development of the field of ECE separating ECE from ‘daycare’, to prosocial foundations of identity development, and affective development at the level of children, along with diversity education which, in the case of Happyland, evolved to an around the world program celebrating world citizenship.

The teachers introduced “The Around The World Program” aimed towards multiculturalism, politely challenging high and low culture, introducing resistance, hybridity, and voice as part of the curriculum and as a second ‘pillar’ of the school around the ideas of multiculturalism and global awareness.

Over the years, Happyland’s praxis evolved with a third ‘pillar’ introducing PODS - think of a pea pod (classroom unit), which opens and closes and the peas (students) are in, out and all around the POD - emerging and evolving as hybrid PODS as the peas on various PODS inter-connect - as a classroom organizational vehicle along with various reforms heralding in a movement which continues to work on issues of democracy education to social justice education, to a cosmopolitan ethic and global citizenship education, all the while keeping an eye on the ever-changing nature of schooling in and the world, mediating - in its scope and reach - for peace; grappling with globalization, violence and poverty challenges; and meditating to Teach Peace, Teach Love, Teach Hope, Teach Harmony & Social Justice.

What Happyland Does - Me & My World, Around The USA & Around The World Program(s), undergirding students as PeaceMakers, and National & International World/Global Citizens.

To prepare students for this role, younger children (2-4 year olds) are scaffolded via community learning which elucidates social learning, emotional learning, and expressive agency as a means to engaging with peers and the wider community as individuals excited by inquiry and ever-curious to unearth the inner-workings of the world around them; or, as better stated by Vygotsky (1978), “The true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the social, but from the social to the individual” (Vygotsky, 1978).

Recognizing that for peer-scaffolding to be developmentally appropriate for human development and for social change to emerge organically, Happyland has leaned on Ecological Theories’ understanding of stage and systems development to bridge individual and global identity with a keen awareness of national identity and development. Accordingly, students in their second year are introduced to an Around The USA curriculum, undergirded by aspirations of utopia, while finding peace oriented unity in national diversity; the intermediary approach to learning the interconnectedness of people; or as stated by Bronfrenbrenner (1978): “No society can long sustain itself unless its members have learned the sensitivities, motivations, and skills involved in assisting and caring for other human beings”.

Ironically, and contra-distinguishedly, to ‘organic’ theories of development and change, perhaps inspired by a sense of urgency as an out-pouring of global unity witnessed by the global civil rights movements of the 1960’s, and ushered in by Freire’s early work, Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 85 Happyland initiated and has been learning through The Around The World Program as a way to celebrate Happyland Graduates (4-6 year olds) as Global PeaceMakers and Citizens of The World since the early 1970’s; or as Paulo Freire (1970) stipulated, “in order to read the word, one must read the world” (Freire, 1970).

Happyland ‘Ethos’

As an evolving, organic/living school model, Happyland continuously tries to show links to: living diversity, the future of schooling, identity and citizenship, and global citizenship through the children, teachers, parents, school, and its related context and curriculum. Tangible outcomes of these processes are showcased in each child’s portfolio of art-work and projects unique to each child’s development, interests, and experiences. Methodologically, these capture direct work, quotes of spoken words and ideas, images and photos along with inferential explanations and descriptive expansions of the images, collective and recollective anecdotes of the collective educational pathways, and highlights of unique trajectories students have traversed to embody the content and context of learning experiences.

Springing from ‘western’ educational models which place the child at the center of learning and independence as a milestone, Happyland, over the years has solidified the value and confluence of developmental yearnings - balancing independence, dependence, interdependence; striving for community and communitarian growth & development - with an ethos of compassion, tolerance & acceptance, diversity in multiplicity, and the pursuit of global jus- Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 86 tice, or as Freire (1970) stated, “humanization is ‘man’s’ (sic) ontological vocation!” (Freire, 1970).

Happyland Mentors – The Emergence Of A Mediation Mantra

“Teach Peace, Teach Love, Teach Hope, Teach Harmony, Teach Social Justice”

The pathway and pursuit of humanization as an organic and enduring endeavour has entailed several instances of pause, reflection, and re-invention, or in developmental terms, a meandering between approaches to assimilation, accommodation, and integration of inspired actions melding various theories of development along with several key figures upon who’s shoulders Happyland has climbed to be able to recite a mantra of humanization, fit for children, “Teach Peace, Teach Love, Teach Hope, Teach Harmony, (Teach Social Justice - this aspect of the mantra is hard for young children to recite)”.

To bring the theoretical underpinnings of Freire, Vygotsky, Dewey, Bronfrenbrenner and others to life, Happyland, over the years, has been inspired by the actions of such changemakers as Mahatma Gandhi (Teach Peace, 1940-50’s), Mother Teresa (Teach Love, 1950-60’s), Martin Luther King (Teach Hope, 1960-70’s), Jimmy Carter (Teach Harmony, 1970-80’s), Nelson Mandela (Teach Social Justice, 1990-2000’s), and more recently, Cesar Chavez (2016, HappyLand Is My JAM!). With each epoch of their work towards humanization and emancipation from oppression, Happyland has been inspired by a word which resonates with these Leaders and has Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 87 meditated on that chosen word to embody the energy and spirit of the work enacted by these changemakers. Over the years, the happyland Mantra has grown and evolved with its current rendition of the children reciting “Teach Peace, Teach Love, Teach Hope, Teach Harmony” during circle times, during moments of in-school transitions, as well as during large scale social justice oriented movements as an expression of support and more importantly, as a means to recognizing that the voice of children needs to be heard and integrated to the social, cultural, political, and historical moments we are living - a nod to ‘voting rights’ and a voice of and for inclusion in social change. 

As Happyland continues to mature and learn, others internationally renouned from around the world, and those historically recognized over time, such as The Dali Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Che Guevara will be added to the tree of changemakers leaving their mark on the world. Through role play, skits and dramatization, Hapyland students can see themselves embodying the spirit of these leaders and see themselves in those positions to be celebrated as PeaceMakers of Now!

Recognizing the ostensible naivete around celebrating all of these ‘achievements’ listed above, Happyland recognizes that these are all un-finished works in process and progress; thus necessitating a continuum of ‘next steps’ in the vein of praxis - curriculum reform which melds with continued teacher training along the lines of aptitudes and attitudes for and towards global learning and citizenship; documentation of reflexive practices via teacher and student portfolios and celebrating ‘best practices’ within the children and the Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 88 school as an emblematic ‘POD’ encompassing the students, parents, teachers, administrators, and all of the school volunteers and other staff - including the ‘handy-people’, janitorial crew, gardener, and members of the community.

Given its age of inception (1943), physical proximity to Culver City’s City Hall, the Police Station (Happyland shares two walls with the police station), the Fire Station, the Culver City School District Offices (all of these are within 500 feet of the school) and the fact that Culver City Unified School District houses only 5 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 1 high school, Happyland has been an integral part of the Culver City Community.

However, community learning initiated at the level of the classrooms and school necessitates a broader inter-connectedness to society on a physical and, quite possible, given the ubiquity of the internet, a virtual level. One of the caveats to continuous, long-term, direct community engagement is related to the chronological nature of child development and matriculation through the schooling process; in the case of preschool-age programs, student enrollment is structured between the ages of 2.5-6 years of age, after which time, students move on to kindergarten and elementary (primary) school.

The following is a quick and simple snap-shot of areas which Happyland will continue to re-invent since enrollment at the school spans one to three years per child or approximately five years per family, given an average of two children per family: Parent education and family integration, collaborative work with other schools/ programs, and broad-scale community outreach and inreach.

Parent education and family integration - A pre-requisite to integrating a child to a school community requires a need to focus on unique and collective contributions which families make to the school community, community at large and through familial integration to their children; as the old African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”. An approach Happyland is exploring (on a rotating basis) is to invite parents of a child to share a thematic area their child cherishes and participate in circle time during several (approx. 4) weekly school visits; initially reading a children’s book about their theme or topic of choice, and over time, participating in activities, crafts and projects highlighting that child’s passion. This process could occur during two circle times a day so that the class is celebrating two children a day; accordingly, a class of ten children can be celebrated each week, which utilizes the ‘first’ month of school to integrating each child and family to the school community.

The outcomes of these processes can be observed in (a) home school connections, (b) each child and family is celebrated, (c) enhanced bond with parents via community building, (d) activities can be tied into curriculum that is shared by peers demonstrates how each child contributed to the whole, (e) artefacts, images, and artwork from the activities can be displayed in portfolios, (f) the process and continued participation over time extends and highlights the social, emotional, and expression oriented foci in the younger classes shine, (g) the approach engenders the nuances and complexities of a class and world built of independence, dependence, interdependence through the unique gifts children bring to the world - towards the ideas of a gifting economy model of community.

Collaborative work and exchanges with other schools, near and far; ideologically varied - same, different, rich, or poor - socially, culturally, politically, and economically -yet all inter-connected. Integrating students through global awareness and citizenship necessitates a broader scope of inter-connections than those afforded via classroom actions. In a world in which allegiances and identities are in a state of flux, a semblance of a watered-down Hegelian dialectic, skirting on an hybridity of ideas and experiences may prove valuable as students learn about the world around them, and explore interculturalism moving away, as developmentally appropriate, from ‘touristy’ multiculturalism and ‘benevolent’ construction programmes to a deeper understanding of anti-hegemonic social, political, cultural, historic and experiential life; simply stated, that from each learning opportunity of the ‘other’, the students can learn about ‘ourselves’ - for example, while students may learn about Korean Kimchi, they can also learn about Korea’s role in taking the lead on Global Citizenship Education movements.

Broad-Scale Community Out-reach & In-reach - What are the possibilities and constraints - Does the economics of a community make a difference in school participation and student experimentation? Given that Happyland is an independent school (i.e., not publically funded), there are several approaches to expanding the scope of the school - scale - other centers/schools, web-blogs, (k-16) student service learning, (ECE/Teacher Training) student interns & practicum field site, (University) student researchers, and connections with publically funded programs such as Head Start and First Five of California. While all of these processes are in place, a more structured approach to formalizing the systems and structures of these processes Global Commons Review 2 s Spring 2018 s Cover s Contents s About Us 91 may provide an invaluable opportunity for reflection and insight from members ‘outside’ of the school. Harnessing this opportunity may help juxtapose school assessments in a multi-layered fashion providing additional opportunities for reforms and opportunities.

At the level of students, school readiness is defined as “the ability to cope, learn, and achieve without undue stress”. I would like to postulate that at the level of a school, critical reflection, reform, and re-invention should take a similar vein, albeit, ever so playfully, as Professor Carlos Torres provokes educators to remain “epistemologically self vigilant”; and in so doing, we may postulate the following view of play as the grounding to epistemological school-vigilance.

In the Bank Street College News Flash (Spring 2008) Steven Webb outlines a Piagetian view of play:

“Jean Piaget theorized that a child’s mental models, or cognitive structures, are based on the child’s activities; engagement makes meaning. Free, unstructured play is healthy and, in fact, essential for helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones. Piaget’s theory is based on the idea that the developing child builds cognitive structures known as mental maps, or schemas, for understanding and responding to physical experiences.

What is known as constructivism postulates that, by reflecting on our experiences, we develop our own understanding of the world. Each of us generates our own mental models to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. Constructivist teaching focuses on creating experiential and engaging activities for students. This kind of learning also involves an element of play.

In so doing, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means”. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Bredekamp, Sue. 1987. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8, Expanded Edition. Washington, D.C.: NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children).

Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1978. The Ecology of Human Development Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Freire, Paulo. 1994. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York, NY.: The Continuum Publishing Co.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Cultural Action For Freedom. Boston, MA.: Harvard Education Press.

King, Martin Luther. 1967. “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” The Trumpet of Conscience, 24 December 1967.

Piaget, Jean. Play In The Lives Of Children. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Vygotsky, Lev S. 1978. Mind In Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Webb, Steven. 2008. Bank Street College News Flash (Spring 2008). New York, NY: Bank Street College Press.

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